Suppose Shmeryl regularly and unabashedly eats at McDonald's (not the Kosher one in Israel!), or engages in some other unambiguously un-Halachic behavior. Shmeryl doesn't believe that there's anything wrong with this or that there's any reason to hide it. Assume that Shmeryl is not a public figure.

If Shmeryl's friend Beryl, in the course of a public internet conversation, wants to mention what he heard about McDonalds from Shmeryl, may he? Does it matter whether he mentions Shmeryl's name? Assume that there's no pressing need to mention this information, but it's useful in the conversation.


Unless you need to protect Beryl from eating in Shmeryl's home or other need to protect Beryl (say from using Shmeryl as a halachic witness) - then I would think not.

In light of the fact that the Chofetz Chaim says that you should not even say something good about a person if it may be later construed as bad, it would seem that saying something we think is bad about an individual who is not "enlightened" enough to realize - would be still be Lashon Harah (halachic slander).

It seems that a lot of what the Chofetz Chaim says on the topic is best taken as idealistic but not practical reality, as you could sum it up as don't talk unless it's part of torah study, tefillah, related to the performance of a mitzvah or needed for your parnasah.

In day to day life we have our own sense of "Lashon Harah". It can be summed up as "You know it when hear it" (You may not always realize what you're saying). Since we are "hardened" to the idea of a fellow Jew not being Shomer Mitzvot (observant) we really don't give a second thought to the overall character of the person just because we know he/she is secular or otherwise not observant. In that non-halachic sense, we feel comfortable engaging in such conversation and probably why it's a question. However I would highly doubt if it's allowed in a strict halachic approach, particularly if we use the Chofetz Chaim's interpretations that are restrictive beyond the the basic understanding of the concept and level of restraint of most people.

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  • The Chofetz Chaim has a notion about the prohibition of lashon hara not being applicable regarding those who clearly, willfully, abandon the mitzvot. I'm not sure who exactly belongs in that category, though. – Shalom Jan 7 '10 at 20:36
  • Aaron, "you should not even say something good about a person if it may be later construed as bad" -- the question is how it will be construed, by whom, and to what effect. To say that Joe Shmoe loses his temper a lot is lashon hora. If Joe Shmoe is 18 months old, not so clear. (I recall the chofetz chaim addresses this particular case in more depth in be'er mayim chayim, his footnotes to his text.) This could take some more thought. – Shalom Jan 7 '10 at 20:37
  • I wouldn't be in quite the same rush to declare it's all hopeless. A lot can have to do with how the information is described, to whom, and for what purpose. (Of course, once it goes up online, all bets are off ... but that's a different issue.) Rabbi Rakefet, in a lectures (don't recall which), stated that when writing a biography about someone no longer living, to say "so-and-so was an alcoholic" is lashon hara. But to write "he was so deeply committed to the wellbeing of the yeshiva that at one point, unfortunately, its financial pressures drove him to drinking" is not lashon hara. – Shalom Jan 7 '10 at 20:37

The Rambam in Hilchot Deot defines Lashon Hara as "something that could harm, upset, or frighten" its subject. The Choftez Chaim accepts that definition. The "unless you need to protect Beryl" (Lashon Hara for a constructive purpose) clause is only needed if the content itself is damaging/upsetting (e.g. "Shmeryl has severe schizophrenia", or even "Shmeryl is stupid" or "Shmeryl is ugly").

The Chofetz Chaim writes that (true) stories told about young children usually won't be damaging or upsetting, so they're not Lashon Hara. The simplest counterexample he could come up with is a child in foster care, in real danger of being rejected by his/her foster family because of stories circulating about him/her. But that's an illustrative exception, not the rule!

In today's world, in usual contexts, to say "Shmeryl doesn't (yet) keep kosher", when Shmeryl himself will proudly proclaim such, is unlikely to damage or offend Shmeryl.

The only remaining issue is whether posting this on the Internet may years later come to haunt Shmeryl. Not sure about that.

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  • There's some very nasty abelism in this answer. Schizophrenia is an illness, not a character flaw. – TRiG Jul 19 '12 at 23:59
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    @Trig, precisely. But revealing that information in the wrong contexts can be damaging. – Shalom Jul 20 '12 at 11:43

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